Leading a Virtual Annual Meeting EffectivelyFebruary 18, 2022 10:21 am
The advent of the Covid-19 virus changed how we conduct The Business of The Day in ways that we are still counting: Corporate travel plummeted due to travel restrictions; teleworking made business leaders reevaluate their policies on allowing employees to work from home; employee relocations and transfers became unnecessary. What do these situations all have in common?
They are all examples of how businesses around the globe pivoted during the pandemic from an in-person workplace into one that increasingly embraces the ability to conduct business virtually. These days, employees and C-level leaders no longer need to hop on a plane to be present for important meetings; there has been an explosion of instances where companies of all sizes and locations have left the brick-and-mortar existence, saving an increasingly incalculable amount of money by allowing employees to work from home; and corporations who invest in the many cloud-based platforms and technologies can hire employees without footing the bill for expensive relocations.
The virtual world has clocked in for work. Not surprisingly, Virtual Annual General Meetings are now in vogue, and skyrocketing in popularity.
In 2019, only about 300 publicly traded companies chose to host their live annual meetings online; the following year, nearly 2,500 of those responding to the previous year’s poll opted for virtual annual meetings. In 2021, a whopping 86 percent of S&P companies hosted their annual general and/or shareholder meetings virtually – either completely, or a combination of an in-person meeting with live streaming virtual components.
Kinds of Virtual Delivery
Companies can run virtual annual meetings with varying levels of live streaming. Let’s look at the available options:
- In-person/Live Streaming Combination
Choosing this option can offer a lot of flexibility on what a company can virtually host. Some businesses opt for an in-person meeting with streaming elements, where their audience can either view in real time online or listen to the live audio streamed over the internet. Be aware, some of the audience may not be able to participate, depending on the limitations of your chosen platform.
- All-Virtual Meeting
This kind of annual meeting is obvious. Just keep in mind to thoroughly check out the platform’s capabilities, if you head a public company…any shareholders attending the VAM might need special settings on their attendance in order to form a quorum or participate in voting. Many virtual platforms offer two levels of attendance: One that requires identifying themselves via login (facilitating interaction and voting), and meetings that allow people to participate anonymously (which doesn’t necessarily provide interaction). Companies typically allow pre-verified shareholders or stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions during Q&A segments.
- Hybrid Annual Meetings
Here, the company offers its audience attendance via a dedicated virtual platform (instead of live streaming), or in person. With this option, online attendees can verify their identities, which can allow remote participants to count toward a quorum, vote, and/or interact virtually.
Planning, Preparation and Practice, Practice, Practice
Now that you are aware of your options, it’s time to learn how to lead a Virtual Annual Meeting effectively. Because so many companies, both domestic and globally, took a practical dive into the Virtual Pool within the last two years, many best practices were identified, and continue to emerge today. Here are some basic tips for moving forward with your meeting:
- Before you make a final decision about your meeting format, get feedback from your shareholders and stakeholders about which version of a Virtual Annual Meeting they prefer. Listening to their input might help you decide how you want to manage the event.
- Consider everything related to voting carefully, and which virtual option will best support discussions about agenda items, as well as facilitating seamless Q&A sessions.
- Determine all invited attendees’ level of access. You might want to consider who to give limited access to vs. your shareholders/stakeholders.
- Make sure the audio levels are acceptable for all attendees. The best way to assure your virtual platforms are all working as they should is to make sure you have live technical support on hand before, during and after your meeting – regardless of how long or how short your virtual segments are. Also, plan a pre-event run-through with your technical support team to test everything prior to the date of the meeting. (Issuer Direct provides this service – if you are interested in more information or a demo, click here to contact us about your virtual annual meeting needs!
- Provide and test visual elements. A terrific way to enhance the audience’s attention and engagement is to prepare visual elements that support and reflect the audio component for remote audience members. If you include live video streaming, make sure your company’s board members are visible.
- Just as you would do in-person annual meetings, you must plan and rehearse the meeting, to ensure everything runs smoothly during the event. In VAGMs, there will still be scripts to be prepared, as well as reviews of potential shareholder/stakeholder questions, and making sure proposals the shareholders/stakeholders offer are run through your company’s legal and financial/audit teams. Once you and your team have agreed upon a run-of-show plan, it’s time have full rehearsals for EVERYONE involved in the meeting, including all C-Level employees. Make sure these rehearsals are mandatory, and make sure your technical support team is there to run their own tests.
- Adhere to the agreed-upon Rules of Engagement. Formalizing the meeting rules and proceedings are just as important as they are for in-person annual meetings.
- Provide the conditions of and expectations for all Q&A segments. You’ll need to communicate your company’s rules for questions, including deadline submissions, guidelines, and arguably most importantly, time limits for both the questions AND the answers. Make sure you have a hard deadline for the end of the segment and determine the way to respond to the submitted questions that weren’t answered.
- After the meeting, ask for attendees’ feedback and/or suggestions for how your company could improve for next year. Your audience will share their thoughts if you ask for them.
- Make the full audio and/or video of the annual meeting available online as soon as you can. Consider reminding them with an automated email the next day that provides the link to the meeting.
Leading By Example
If you are on the fence about whether to take some or all your annual meeting virtual, consider your company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). As a leader, you want to support your company’s ESG efforts, and hosting a virtual annual meetings saves a hefty share of cash and administration burdens. Additionally, a Virtual Annual Meeting (and Quarterly ones) reduces your shareholder’s and stakeholder’s travel costs and time commitments. Companies that are not able to provide the convenience of a virtual attendance option, or ones that are not able to deliver a seamless experience that offers engagement, run the risk of being viewed as “behind the times,” risking the disappointment among shareholders, stakeholders, and investors.
For this reason, Issuer Direct would love to partner with your company and raise the level and quality of your virtual annual meetings. Click here to learn more or request a demo of our VAGM solutions.